Saturday, April 8, 2017
We escaped the desperate hordes of Bangkok to the small island of Ko Samui in the Gulf of Thailand. Its main industry was the export of copra from the millions of coconut trees on plantations. The labourers earned a dollar and a half American per day. There was a little tourism, a little fishing, a lot of houses with self contained environments. Each house had pigs, chickens, water buffaloes and a garden. There were free coconuts: pineapples and bananas cost pennies. We headed across the island to a village called Tongkien where you could sleep for free under a bamboo canopy in front of a restaurant. You ate whatever the fishermen came up with that day. A few kilometres away was Lamlamai, the beach. It had pure, white sand, warm, light blue, translucent water. In the sun it was almost too bright to look at. There were sand dunes between the sea and the coconut trees. The Thai sun baked everything in vibrating shimmers, the sea breeze blew. The only people who didn’t seem to be affected by the blazing sun were the fishermen who stalked invisible prey with their coolers, Chinese hats and wet sarongs. They stood still, waded in the shallows with their nets, looked like outgrowths of the shore. The Thais appeared out of nowhere, two of them, sat beside us in the sand. The sun, breeze and salt water dehydration drove us up into the trees to sit in the shade and drink coconut milk Sante, “peace” in Thai, and Anothai, hacked some coconuts open, we all drank. Joyce liked the mature yellow coconuts, I preferred the yellowish brown ones, older. Some people liked the young, green coconuts, no one ate the old, brown ones. Anothai, tall, well developed above the waist, skinny below, challenged me as we sat. He was dark skinned, full of energy, knew English because he worked for the Americans who were stationed there. I was forced to respond to his pushing me, using me for a Thai boxing punching bag. The kids in Thailand knew Thai boxing like Canadian kids knew hockey. It was their national sport, on tv all the time. He flopped out some lazy jabs, then surprised me with combinations of whirling knee kicks and high kicks. Most of them landed on my shoulders and upper arms. My rudimentary karate training bluffed Anothai into giving up after a long sparring session. Sante and Joyce watched with forced smiles until we mutually backed off. I made sure our hatchet was in plain view in our pack when Anothai flourished his curved coconut knife. Sante said that he was educated in Bangkok, taught school on Ko Samui, but decided to give it all up and grow coconuts instead. We sat in the sand facing the beach, comfortable in the shade and the breeze. Sante and I talked of education, work, money, our respective countries, considered religion and meditation. Sante exclaimed “Ah, not think!” He demonstrated by sitting up straight, looking ahead with eyes closed, pointing with his index finger from the middle of his forehead to the horizon. He wore an intense expression of concentration and made no sound until he was finished. He said that meditation was taken for granted in Asia, everyone knew how to meditate. It was simply the emptying of the mind, the absence of thought. We slept under the canopy of the restaurant that night, returned to the ferry dock in the morning. Anothai was after our money, Sante tried to cadge whiskey. We bought coconut palm bongs from them, went back to the ferry dock. A man on a neighbouring island grew powerful ganja, the Ko Samui crop was rough, less powerful, plentiful, cheap. Two brothers, trying to escape the heroin addictions which they had picked up in Bangkok, stayed at the same hotel. They were from New York City, wired to China White and oriental women. Both swore they would take an oriental woman over a westerner any time. They apologized to Joyce, told me of the wonders of living with a Thai girl. They knew that they had to get out as soon as possible. They knew that they would inevitably be statistics on the list of heroin casualties if they didn’t. They smoked a lot of local weed to help them get through their withdrawals. We rested, let the tension of Bangkok drain away. We walked down long, white beaches radiated by the sun. The salt water and wind sucked the moisture from us beneath the blazing sun. We drank soft drinks constantly. Heavy punching bags tied to trees in back yards and farm yards were used for punching and kicking practice. The whole country was filled with Buddhist monks who survived on what the population gave them every day.